President Obama indicated in an interview Friday that he has no plans to pardon National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, all but closing the door on the possibility of the former intelligence contractor receiving clemency before Donald Trump takes the oath of office.
Mr. Snowden, 33, was charged by the Justice Department in 2013 with espionage and theft for leaking a trove of classified documents involving the NSA’s worldwide intelligence gathering operations, but has avoided trial in the three years since on account of being granted asylum by Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after his disclosures began generating international headlines.
Supporters of Mr. Snowden including the American Civil Liberties Union launched a campaign in September with the goal of having him granted a president pardon before the next commander in chief enters the White House.
Weighing in with Der Spiegel this week, Mr. Obama suggested the leaker’s situation be settled by the Department of Justice.
“I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point,” Mr. Obama told the German newspaper. “I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community.”
Mr. Snowden did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A week earlier, however, he discussed the possibility of Mr. Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, potentially arranging for his extradition upon taking office.
“I don’t worry about it,” Mr. Snowden said at an event last week. “It’s possible, right? It would be crazy to dismiss the idea of this guy who sort of presents himself as a big deal-maker of trying to make a deal.
“The president of Russia has previously said on camera that the people of Russia consider me a human rights defender. And regardless of the position that we have on Russian politics — which obviously have a lot of problems — they said Russia is not a country that extradites human rights defenders,” Mr. Snowden said.
Indeed, supporters of Mr. Snowden including the ACLU hold a similar opinion in believing that his NSA disclosures served a vital public service by uncloaking mass surveillance operations undertaken globally by the U.S. and its allies, including millions of innocent Americans and others. Additionally, his revelations concerning the NSA bulk collection of telephone records has been directly attributed with reining in that program and reforming others.
Absent a president pardon, however, Mr. Snowden likely won’t be returning stateside anytime soon. He’s said as recently as last week that he’s willing to come home in exchange for receiving a fair trial, but suggested achieving as much was unlikely under the Obama administration.
Mr. Trump hasn’t spoken publicly since being elected about Mr. Snowden’s situation, but said previously he’d have him returned to the U.S. and executed. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the Kansas Republican named Friday as Mr. Trump’s pick for CIA director, previously called for Mr. Snowden’s execution as well.